Volume 20, Number 42 | THE NEWSPAPER OF LOWER MANHATTAN | FEB. 29 - MARCH 6, 2008

Money for suffering shops is a good first step

We are happy to report this week that the city and the Lower Manhattan Development Corp. have just started a program to give commercial rent subsidies to retail store owners whose businesses are suffering because of construction projects. It’s the type of program we began calling for 18 months ago, and however late, it is immensely better than never.

The L.M.D.C. is offering up to $2.50 per square foot, per affected month to street-level stores that have had at least 15 days of a street closure. The benefits are capped at $25,000 per shop and can be applied retroactively to last July, coinciding with the beginning of a 2 ½-year water main replacement project on Fulton St.

The program is a good first step. Small mom and pop shops and others desperately need help as they try to stay in business with drastically reduced foot traffic. Many are also waiting to see if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority is ever able to complete the Fulton Transit Center.

Many businesses have already closed since 9/11. It would be a cruel injustice if more close as they struggle to stay afloat, only to be replaced five years from now by larger stores that can afford the higher rents in the suddenly prime locations in a rebuilt Lower Manhattan. This retail effort was precisely the type of program Congress intended for the $2.8 billion it granted to create and fund the L.M.D.C. after 9/11.

The L.M.D.C. and the city finally recognize the construction problem. Hopefully they also realize the new initiative is not a complete solution. We will be shocked if the $5 million devoted to the new program will be enough, but it may be a good idea not to commit more money just yet. Officials must monitor the program immediately to see how it is working.

How can it be made better, do we need different programs to help those left out, do the subsidies need to be increased, are there loopholes or abuses — these are some of the questions officials need to be asking business owners, community leaders and themselves over the next few weeks and months. It has taken way too long to start this program to let any unpredictable or other mistakes linger.

Officials should be out spreading the word about the program and encouraging people to visit renewnyc.com to get the program details and applications. They should make sure checks are in the mail ASAP and do all they can to cut red tape.

It is very hard if not impossible to write a cookie-cutter program that is fair, helps all in need and leaves no one that is deserving out. Hopefully there will be some flexibility in the program’s application, but that poses a danger of favoritism. That is why a companion program or programs may be needed.

Small shops affected by 9/11-related security closures — like those near Police Plaza or Wall St. also need help. Greenwich St. South businesses whose street access has been severely curtailed by the closed World Trade Center site, are in need. Businesses on Maiden Lane who were unfortunate “pioneers” in experiencing construction-related losses, and others need consideration too.

These problems may not be easy, but they cannot be ignored. We got a good sign this week that maybe they won’t be.



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